High strangeness

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Within the domain of Ufology, high-strangeness is a term used to denote a report of an ufo experience with some degree of complexity and sufficient details to pose difficulties in forming explanations using simple mundane causes. Low strangeness events generally involve the sighting of distant lights or vague shapes with only minimal additional details like perceived motions and no supporting evidence of a physical presence like visibility on radar.

Strangeness increases as the object comes close enough for details to be perceived like curved or flat surfaces, fins, windows, antennae, or some means of propulsion like exhaust or lifting rays. Indication of some physical interaction with the environment like interference in the functioning of vehicles or electronic devices also increases the strangeness of a case. High strangeness is achieved when one can see the pilots or occupants of a craft and, ideally, interact with them in some manner. In actual usage, high strangeness tends to be synonymous with claims of extraterrestrial contact or alien abduction.

Origin of the Term[edit]

J. Allen Hynek first formally introduced strangeness as a property of ufo cases by which to sort and classify their interest in his paper “Twenty-one Years of UFO Reports” that was presented at the Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science held December 26–27, 1969.[1] In this paper, he assigns cases a strangeness index according to “how many individual items or information bits does the report contain which demand explanation, and how difficult is it to explain them, on the assumption that the event occurred?” Though Hynek’s paper does not cite any specific recognizable cases, information is present that informs the reader that ten of eleven cases given the maximum strangeness index of 5 were “close encounters with physical effects (landing marks, burnt rings, engine stoppages, etc.)” The eleventh was a daylight disc with a high credibility index.

Hynek advanced the concept more widely in The UFO Experience (1974). There he first terms it a measure of how ‘odd-ball’ a ufo report is, but then gives the more precise meaning is “a measure of the number of information bits the report contains, each of which is difficult to explain in common-sense terms.” [2] He abstractly states that things like balloons and distant airplane lights could create a low strangeness report, but “A report of a weird craft that descended to within 100 feet of a car on a lonely road, caused the car’s engine to die, its radio to stop, and its lights to go out, left marks on the nearby ground, and appeared to be under intelligent control receives a high Strangeness Rating because it contains a number of separate very strange items, each of which outrages common sense.” [3]

An appendix in the book gives the strangeness ratings of 42 close encounters.[4] Eight get a rating of 5 and include such recognizable cases as the Betty and Barney Hill abduction, the Father Gill CE3K, [5] Socorro aka Lonnie Zamora incident, the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter, and the Levelland UFO Case (the premiere engine-stoppages case). These allow one a better grasp of how the term was intended to be applied in practice.

Problems[edit]

Hynek at no point presents a means of analysis through which the number for the strangeness of a case is determined. In the 1969 paper, Hynek presents a chart that seems to show the maximum strangeness of any case is 5. In the book, there is a chart that shows the strangeness index now has nine rankings and 89 cases have rankings of 6 and above.[6] In the appendix, only one case – a radar/visual case set in May 1964 Regina, Saskatchewan is listed with a ranking of 6.[7] No specific UFO cases are listed there with a ranking of 7 or above, so it is puzzling what the symbols on the chart in those columns even could be referring to. Levelland’s ranking of 5 is almost certainly achieved by combining the reports of 12 people, but there are grounds to doubt they were reporting the same thing since the shapes and behaviors are quite different and happen at times and locations that are not congruent with a single object. Treated separately, they would rank much lower. There seems more than a hint here that strangeness is being deployed in a highly subjective manner and the precise numbers themselves are probably meaningless.

It is perhaps of interest that Jacques Vallee, a close colleague of Hynek, has in a later classification system abandoned use of any strangeness index in preference to one geared to delineating specific forms of anomaly with explanatory difficulty subsumed into a zero to four credibility rating.[8]

Even so, the fact that certain cases are inherently more complex than others is undeniable regardless of the failure to provide an objectively determinable numerical measure. Nobody will ever deny that meeting an alien is much stranger than seeing a distant point of light. As a term for signifying such cases are more challenging enigmas and worthier of attention, it remains a useful bit of jargon in the field of UFO studies.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Carl Sagan and Thornton Page, eds., UFO’s A Scientific Debate, W.W. Norton, 1972, pp. 37-51.
  2. ^ J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry Ballantine Books, 1974, p. 28.
  3. ^ J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry Ballantine Books, 1974, p. 28.
  4. ^ J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry Ballantine Books, 1974, pp. 268-70.
  5. ^ http://ufos.about.com/od/bestufocasefiles/p/papua.htm
  6. ^ J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry Ballantine Books, 1974, p. 30.
  7. ^ J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry Ballantine Books, 1974, p. 267.
  8. ^ Jacques Vallee, Confrontations: A Scientist’s Search for Alien Contact, Ballantine Books, 1990, pp. 216-9.